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Is the MS13 in Honduras Expanding its Role in the Regional Drug Trade?

COCAINE / 5 NOV 2021 BY PARKER ASMANN EN

US prosecutors have charged an alleged MS13 leader in Honduras and his associate with international cocaine trafficking, raising fresh questions about the gang’s role in the regional drug trade.

Prosecutors allege that Yulan Andony Archaga Carías, alias “Alexander Mendoza” or “Porky,” is a top MS13 boss in Honduras and responsible for moving large cocaine shipments through the Central American nation to the United States, the US Justice Department announced November 3.

“MS13’s drug trafficking operations led by Archaga Carías include the processing, receiving, transporting and distributing of multi-ton loads of cocaine,” prosecutors said in an indictment filed in the Southern District of New York. Archaga Carías also allegedly offered weapons and the services of MS13 “sicarios,” or hitmen, as payment and protection for other drug trafficking groups.

His alleged associate, David Campbell, alias “Viejo Dan,” was indicted in the same case for his alleged role as one of Archaga Carías’ “major suppliers of drugs and guns.” Campbell allegedly smuggled machineguns from El Salvador and Nicaragua to the gang, and helped them launder drug proceeds through various businesses he controlled or owned, according to prosecutors.

SEE ALSO: Is Honduras' MS13 a Drug Trafficking Organization? An Obscure Fugitive May Have the Answer

Archaga Carías is currently on the run after breaking out of custody in an armed assault on the courthouse in the city of El Progreso, northern Yoro department. Arrested in 2015, Archaga Carías had been imprisoned in Honduras after being convicted of money laundering and illicit association. While he was at a hearing in February 2020, more than a dozen armed men, dressed in fake police uniforms, attacked the courthouse and sprung him loose. The assailants, suspected of being MS13, killed five security officials in the assault.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) has since added him to the agency’s Top 10 Most Wanted List, offering up to $100,000 for information leading to his arrest.

Campbell, who had been on the run for five years after being charged with money laundering in Honduras, was arrested in June 2021 in Nicaragua. Police seized more than $400,000 in cash during the raid that led to his arrest and that of five other alleged associates.

If convicted, both Archaga Carías and Campbell face a mandatory minimum of 40 years in prison, and a maximum life sentence. It’s unclear if US authorities have requested Campbell’s extradition from Nicaragua. Honduran officials said they would ask for him to be returned at the time of his capture.

InSight Crime Analysis

The latest indictment provides further evidence that Archaga Carías was not only a central leader of the MS13’s criminal activities in Honduras, but has a level of underworld capacity not typically associated with his counterparts in the gang.

The military-style operation that led to his remarkable escape from jail last year was arguably the most advanced strike the MS13 is alleged to have carried out in recent years. It was almost certainly aided by official corruption, something a gang leader of Archaga Carías’ stature could secure.

Not only that, but the escape wasn’t bloodless, as various police officers were killed. The fact that he doesn't seem to be heavily targeted by police and remains free almost two years later also speaks to the potential protection he enjoys from authorities in Honduras.

“[Porky] is probably alone in the level of sophistication he’s been able to achieve,” said Douglas Farah, the president of the national security consulting firm IBI Consultants. “But he’s certainly a pioneer in the movement of the MS13 in Honduras towards newer and more robust connections with transnational organized crime.”

SEE ALSO: MS13 and International Drug Trafficking: Gang Project vs. Entrepreneurism

Archaga Carías and Campbell probably saw their relationship as mutually beneficial. As a transport specialist with apparent ties to Colombia and the United States, Campbell provided Archaga Carías' with drugs and weapons he would normally not have access to. Meanwhile, Archaga Carías offered Campbell the opportunity to move cocaine shipments through Honduras.

In essence, Campbell was a classic fixer in his role as “one of the principal suppliers” of cocaine to Archaga Carías, according to US prosecutors. He likely moved among different groups in the region, eventually coming into contact with the MS13 through his relationship with Archaga Carías. It is unlikely that he was a bonafide member.

Like Archaga Carías, Honduras' MS13 has looked to expand into drug trafficking and has even come to dominate sales of a synthetic type of marijuana known as “krispy” in major cities like San Pedro Sula. This has given them the cash flow needed to begin to leave behind extortion - long the bedrock of the gang's criminal activity in Central America - as their main income source and make other transnational connections, Farah told InSight Crime.

“In Central America, the MS13 in Honduras has made big strides with moving into the drug trade in a more systematic, coherent, and large-scale way,” he said. “It’s not huge amounts, but still hundreds of kilograms of cocaine.”

While the MS13 is far from an international drug trafficking organization, the group may find the door open wider to them after many of the longtime figures in Honduras’ drug trade have been killed, arrested and extradited.

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